Category Archives: 2016 REEF

Eat Em’ to Beat Em’

Greetings once more fellow divers. With REEF’s mission being marine conservation through citizen science and education, there are plenty of opportunities to engage the public and raise awareness for several problems our earth’s oceans face. One of the big problems that is seen worldwide is the presence of invasive species. Like unwelcome dinner guests, they come from far away, make a mess, and create a giant problem that must be dealt with. One of the worst offenders is right here in our back yard. The stretch from as far south as Brazil and as far north as New York and New England. They are found all throughout the Caribbean and Gulf and are as harmful as they are pretty. If you read the previous passage and guessed Lionfish, you are correct!


Originally from the Red Sea and the Indo-pacific region, Lionfish have made themselves quite comfy on our reefs, gobbling up and consuming more than their fair share of native reef fish. Their stomach can enlarge 33 times its normal size, with dense populations consuming 460,000 prey fish/acre/year. Their gluttonous eating habits can reduce fish prey populations by up to 90 %. They can be found in as shallow as a few inches of water, down all the way to 1000 ft.  They become sexually mature in less than a year, and can spawn throughout the year, every 4 days. On top of that, a single egg sack can contain 12,000 to 15,000 eggs, and is carried great distances via ocean currents. If their eating habits and reproductive habits were not bad enough, they are armored like tanks with 13 venomous spines on its back, 1 on each of the pelvic fins, and 3 in its anal fin. While not lethal, the venom is able to give any unsuspecting predator or diver a very painful memory. Altogether, it sometimes seems these guys were manufactured in a lab by some evil genius scientists that had a grudge against coral reefs, or had simply seen one too many creature features during the weekends.


All hope is not lost. Lionfish have one Achilles fin: they are absolutely delicious. And thus the strategy of eat em’ to beat em’ was born. REEF has been at the forefront of Lionfish management since 2005. Through workshops and educational events, the organization has been working relentlessly to raise awareness of the striped menace, as well as educate divers and community members what they can do to be part of the solution. And the solution is tasty. Solutions such as ceviche, cocoanut crusted, blackened, grilled, the list goes on and on. To really spread the word, as well as remove as many lionfish from the reefs as possible, REEF has been organizing large events known as Lionfish Derbies. At these derbies, teams of 4 compete to see who can catch the most, the biggest, and the smallest, with large cash prizes for the best fish hunters. Not only do these events usually remove hundreds of the harmful species, it also attracts a large group of people who are interested in learning more. Education can be through filleting and preparation, public dissections, and simply answering any and all question people might have.

This summer I was able to help out at 3 official REEF derbies, and 2 sanctioned derbies. Locations included the Gold Coast, Abaco, Sarasota, Fort Lauderdale, and Palm Beach. My duties ranged from manning the merchandise table, to helping score fish, to filleting. Each was a fantastic time, with the excitement from the quick pace requiring efficiency, good communication, and duty flexibility that reminds one of the excitement and adrenaline from a good roller coaster or drift dive.

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Until next time! Happy diving everyone


Celebrating World Oceans Day with Coralpalooza!

Howdy one and all! Being part of any organization that emphasizes marine conservation, World Ocean’s day is a big deal. While it is true that world oceans day is every day here at REEF, it’s great to see other conscience divers come together to make a difference. This World Ocean’s Day I had the great fortune to see up close the result of everyone’s team work.


One of the advantages to living and working in Key Largo is the large quantity of non-profit and marine conservation organizations that exist right around the corner. As an intern, we are encouraged to take time to volunteer at these other organizations. For World Ocean day, I had the privilege of volunteering with the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) during their Coralpalooza event.


CRF focuses on the restoration of coral reefs by actually growing elkhorn and staghorn corals in offshore nurseries. In the nurseries, there are several PVC “trees” that are tethered to the bottom and made buoyant through the use of subsurface floats. On these trees, the corals are hung using monofilament line and allowed to grow. Once they reach a certain size, the coral is then fractured into smaller pieces and tagged. Some of the fragments will be placed back into the nurseries where they will be allowed to grow until they are big enough to repeat the process. Other fragments will be selected to be planted out on select sites on the reefs.


Coralpalooza attempts to bring a greater recognition to World Ocean’s day, as well as conservation issues facing the earth’s oceans. During the event, I was a member of two teams. On the first team, we worked in the nursery. On the first dive, group leaders cut the large staghorn coral, while the rest of the team tagged all corals selected for out planting, and hung the remaining fragments back on the trees. On the second dive, we preformed some cleaning and maintenance on the trees. Fire coral, other growth, and any biofouling organisms are cleaned off the trees to ensure the best growing conditions. During the afternoon dives, the team worked on using non-toxic epoxy to plant the harvested coral from the nurseries at various reefs in Key Largo. Our site was particularly shallow and the surge was intensive. It was hard work, but very rewarding and extremely fun!


Having done most of my undergraduate research on oysters and corals, it was refreshing to take a break from fish and work with invertebrates once more. I thoroughly enjoyed my time volunteering with CRF, and am most grateful for hosting the event and allowing myself and many others to make a difference.  I look forward to continue sharing more wonderful experiences with everyone. Best Fishes and happy diving!



Toughing it out in Paradise

Things are going great as a REEF intern. One of REEF’s current major projects is the study, removal, and public education of the invasive Lionfish. Part of studying invasive lionfish involves various projects such as the impacts of the lionfish derbies and the traveling tendencies of lionfish. One current lionfish project aims to see if lionfish prefer one type of structure over another (Vertical vs. Horizontal). As interns, we are given the opportunity to assist in the project, diving to conduct surveys and collect data. However, the project is not set in Key Largo. In fact, it is not even setup in the United States. The site of the project is in the Sea of Abaco, between Great Abaco and Green Turtle Cay in the Bahamas.


The journey began early one Tuesday, as we drove from Key Largo to Fort Lauderdale. Once there, we took a quick, 1 hour flight over the Great Abaco Island. Once we landed, we transferred to a van and proceeded North. The final leg of the journey involved taking a ferry ride to Green Turtle Cay (pronounced ˈkeɪ/). The first day was mostly travel, some grocery shopping, as well as preparing all arrangements for the next day, such as tanks, weight, boat etc.

On day two, we began work bright and early. We loaded up and headed out to our study sites. For the first 2 or 3 sites, we observed and learned how to lay a transect, inspect the structure, and perform the surveys. We also collected equipment that was being used to monitor select sites. Throughout the day, our survey technique improved. Throughout the day we kept our dive gear on: Reach the site, splash in, conduct the survey, and return to the boat to move on the next site. Dives lasted 5-7 minutes and our max depth was 15 ft. We were tested physically, as we did a succession of multiple quick dives that required entering and exiting the boat in full gear, and mentally, as we faced many heavy rain storms that reduced visibility. Day three was more forgiving as we had clear sunny skies and better visibility. In total, we did 37 dives over the course of 2 days.


Day four was a bit of a day off. Instead of conducting research, we took time to take the boat out and snorkel various areas. We also had the opportunity to learn how to spear lionfish. Since harvesting any marine animal in the Bahamas on open circuit is illegal, we had to free dive and spear. It was quite the adrenaline rush. You circle the surface, like a shark, waiting to spot the colorful pattern of a lionfish. As soon as you do, you take a series of big drawn out breaths, slowing your heart rate down. You dive down, slowly approaching the unsuspecting invader, aiming the pole spear right behind the gills at a perpendicular angle to the fish. With the shot lined up, you release the spear.

As luck would have it, during our stay in Green Turtle Cay, the 8th annual Abaco Lionfish derby was taking place. The Abaco derby was the first Lionfish Derby back in 2008, and it is still going strong with great participation and results. The derby also gave us a chance to conduct surveys pre and post derby, to see how effective the event was in reducing the Lionfish population in the area.

After 5 days, it was time to head home to analyze the data. While short, the opportunity to help with research was quite the memorable experience. Even though it proved challenging, I loved every minute of it. It may be a hard life some times, but I would not want to be doing anything else. Until next time!




Wait, what kind of fish was that again?

Greetings once again! Even in such a short amount of time, so much has gone on. There is never a dull moment at REEF, with plenty do. Due to the diverse range of work we do as interns, there is plenty to share and talk about.


REEF’s mission is to educate and enable divers to become active stewards and citizen scientists. Data collected by REEF and its’ members is used by researchers to monitor health and biodiversity of fish species worldwide. REEF provides members with various resources to learn fish identification such as identification books and fish ID webinars. They also provide members with underwater paper and slates to record the species and number of fish seen during a survey. Divers conducting a survey assign each fish species they see an abundance category. The categories are: single (1), few (2-10), many (11-100), or abundant (101+). The data is then uploaded online and added to the vast REEF database.


As an intern, one of our perks is the opportunity to take a half day during the week to go out on one of the local dive boats and conduct fish surveys. Since the beginning of the internship, I have conducted 19 Surveys and am working on becoming a level 3 surveyor. As a REEF member, there are different levels of surveyors. Everyone starts as a level one (novice) because everyone knows at least one fish. After conducting 2 surveys, and passing a level 2 quiz with 80% or better, a diver can advance to level 2 (Beginner). After 25 surveys and passing the level 3 quiz, a diver becomes a level 3 surveyor (advanced). Level 4 and 5 are expert surveyors and require even more dives and a greater range of knowledge of fish species as well as their phases.


Fish identification really keeps you on your toes. It requires a lot of time and dedication to learn the many species found in the Water of the Tropical Western Atlantic Region. It also requires a keen eye and patience as fish come in many shapes, sizes, colors, and variations making them hard to identify sometimes. Although large reef fish are cool, there is just something so exciting about finding small blennies and gobies that are the size ones pinky finger. With each dive, my range of fish which I can identify grows and with each survey I get more excited to test my knowledge. The fish ID has even pushed me to start working on improving my underwater photography skills to keep a record of what I see and to double check my survey data. Diving with a purpose also makes diving more enjoyable. I can’t imagine ever being able to go back to just diving and not having a slate in my hands.


With summer passing by, that means Lionfish Derby season and Kids camps are almost upon us. Looking forward to sharing more wonderful experiences with everyone really soon! Best Fishes and Happy diving





Greetings everyone!

Hi everyone! Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Patrick Peck, I am a Geoenvironemental Studies Major with a Biology minor and GIS certificate. I am currently attending Shippensburg University in South Central Pennsylvania, and expect to graduate this December. My passions are rooted in the outdoors, specifically in exploring and helping protect and conserve our aquatic world. Thanks to OWUSS, I will have the opportunity to do just that. This summer, I will have the honor of being the Dr. Jamie L. King REEF Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) Marine Conservation Intern.

I am deeply grateful for the funding and support of the Our World Underwater Scholarship Society. Everyone from the society has been immensely kind and helpful as this journey begins to unfold. I would also like to thank REEF for hosting the internship and giving me the opportunity to work, learn, and dive in the exciting and fun field of marine conservation. As appreciative as I am for this wonderful opportunity, I would also like to thank all those who have helped me get to this point, specifically the staff, faculty, and educators of the Geography and Earth Science Department at my school for preparing me and helping guide me in my academic pursuits, and the Chincoteague Bay Field station where I have begun my foray into Marine Science.

Living in Pennsylvania, the trip to Key Largo is about an 18 hour, 1,200 mile journey. Being a long voyage and summer, one’s first thought is usually road-trip. Unfortunately, during long car rides, I tend to get rather bored after the 5 hour mark. Thus, I took the less exciting train option. Amtrak operates a train from Lorton, Va to Orlando, FL where passengers can park their vehicles in specialized cars in the back, and enjoy the option of napping whenever one pleases toward the front. So after a series of long naps, I arrived in Orlando early one morning, and finished the uneventful journey to Key Largo.

While the trip down was uneventful, the internship has been far from that. In the first week alone, we had the opportunity to go diving and conduct our first fish survey (more on that in the next blog post), kayak through the mangroves at John Pennekamp State Park, dissect a lionfish, and assist in one of our first REEF events, one of the monthly Fish ID presentations. As well as all the fun and excitement of field work, the other interns and myself have been hard at work learning where everything is around the office, how to handle storefront orders and materials, and all the effort and work that goes into working at a non-profit. While REEF does keep us busy, I am so excited to be working all summer with such a fantastic and passionate group of people. I look forward to sharing all of this summer’s adventures so stay tuned for more!

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